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Two Parables (#1, Mt 22:2 || Lk 14:16)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG; Klyne Snodgrass On: Two Parables (#1, Mt 22:2 || Lk 14:16) From: Bruce If (starting from Day One to formulate a theory of Synoptic
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2008
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG; Klyne Snodgrass
      On: Two Parables (#1, Mt 22:2 || Lk 14:16)
      From: Bruce

      If (starting from Day One to formulate a theory of Synoptic relationships)
      we consider that related parables in different Gospels may be signs of
      directionality between those Gospels, and if we expect all those
      directionality indications to point the same way, it turns out that we have
      some interesting cases to adjudicate. I am looking at two cases which happen
      to involve parables, and this is the first of them. Of it, Chuck Jones had
      earlier said,

      QUOTE: One of my favorite examples of Lukan primitivity vs. Matthean
      theological development is Lk 14:16 vs. Mt 22:2, the parable of the great
      banquet. The extent to which Mt has fiddled with the basic story to insert
      his theology is striking. And, like any metaphor taken too far, Mt's story
      looses all touch with reality. (It's a capital offense or an act of war to
      miss a dinner?)

      REPLY: Are the warlike details of Mt 22:2f addenda, or are they merely
      incoherent? That passage, with the specifically warlike elements bracketed,
      might read as follows. Note that the bracketed elements will either have to
      be changed (to another noun subject than "king") or removed (in his
      destruction of the guests' city) to yield what Chuck regards as the


      Mt 22:2f: "The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a [king] who gave a
      marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were
      invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other
      servants, saying Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my
      dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come
      to the marriage feast. But they made light of it and went off, one to his
      farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated
      them shamefully, and killed them. The [king] was angry, [and he sent his
      troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city]. Then he said to
      his servants, The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go
      therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as
      you can find. And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all
      whom they found, both bad and good, so the wedding hall was filled with
      guests. But when the [king] came in to look at the guests, he saw there a
      man who had no wedding garment, and he said to him, Friend, how did you get
      in here without a wedding garment? And the man was speechless. Then the
      [king] said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot,and cast him into the
      outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. For many are
      called, but few are chosen."

      INTERPRETATION. I previously used the word "topos" for the family of
      parables whose root idea is the Kingdom of Heaven as a feast. Klyne
      Snodgrass says that the Mt version "may reflect two separate parables that
      have been joined." The second of these would be the part about the man with
      no wedding garment. Again, I would rather say, two topoi have been combined.
      Of the combination, Klyne says "Unlike Luke's account, Matthew's story does
      not remain on the narrative level. It neither has nor needs a nimshal. It is
      almost diaphanous in that one sees through to the reality almost from the
      first. In fact, one sees more of the reality than the parable. The surface
      narrative is close to not being there at all."

      I would agree that the allegorical convention is all but dropped in the
      line, bracketed above, about the king "destroying the city" of the unwilling
      wedding guests.

      Given that transparency, I don't think the allegory is very difficult to
      read. (1) God at first invites a chosen few (the Jews) to his Kingdom
      (salvation in the next world). He sends Jesus as his messenger to remind the
      previously (Abrahamically) extended invitation. But those originally invited
      are now too busy with their earthly lives to accept. Some of them even kill
      his messenger (Jesus). In revenge, he destroys their city (Jerusalem; we are
      in the year 70) as a judgement on them. He next transfers his invitation to
      others (the Gentiles), who indeed come. (2) But of those who come in
      response to this second invitation, not all will in the end be found worthy
      (the man with no proper garment). These will be consigned to everlasting


      Here, in a perhaps not exceptionally felicitous combination of two topoi,
      both topoi having precedents in Mark, is the Story of the Future Kingdom as
      Matthew chooses to represent Jesus explaining it on that occasion. Its most
      striking feature is surely the "destruction" motif, and that motif is surely
      there to prove the historical truth of the Kingdom promise, and to renew its
      ongoing and still future validity for the early Christians, some 40 years or
      more after the death of Jesus.

      Now, if some 17-year-old Matthew had handed this in to my AP class, I would
      have taken him aside and said, Look, kid, it's vivid in its way, but it's
      not your best writing. The two-part structure is clunky; the story really
      ends literarily with the filling of the banquet hall, and your tacked-on
      Naked Guest bit does not enhance it. Instead, it spoils it. [And I notice
      here that it is just these defects, so obvious even to the modern AP
      teacher, that Luke corrects, with avuncular condescension, in his version].
      Doubtless the surly young Matthew would argue back (these 17-year-olds have
      a lot of lip), "But it's irresponsible to portray the second banquet as the
      whole message, since not everyone there will really get into Heaven without
      sufficient effort of their own, and I don't feel entitled to represent Jesus
      as giving only part of the story, so as to trap his listeners into
      overconfidence in their acceptance. Also, the part about destroying their
      city adds violence and convincement to the story, and so strengthens it far
      beyond the pallid and pedestrian version that you foolishly seem to prefer."

      Kids. So you shrug it off, and he goes to press with his version.

      This is merely to say, I find that the defects in Mt are screamingly
      obvious, and that it is accordingly intelligible if authorial Lk moves to
      eliminate those defects, along with any other changes he may make for merely
      local reasons. If we have other reasons to think that the sequence of the
      two texts goes the other way, there would seem (on this reading) to be no
      bar to seeing this passage as compatible; the authorial improvements that
      are to be attributed to Lk, on that understanding, are, or would be,
      literarily intelligible.


      I say just in passing that the Mt story cannot be produced by adding the
      discordant "king" touches to the Lk story. A considerable amount of literary
      re-emphasis would also have been required. In effect, whichever of Mt and Lk
      may have been inspired by the other's version, that writer has formed his
      own version with a free hand, and shaped it suitably to his intention and
      especially to his placement in narrative context. That is, the two texts do
      not at first look suggest either

      Lk + stuff = Mt


      Mt - stuff = Lk

      or yet

      X + stuff = Mt; X + different stuff = Lk

      We are dealing instead, it looks to me, with different elaborations of a
      topos, not different copies or even different editions of a previous text.
      The remaining Synoptic question would then be whether one of these highly
      individual treatments is inspired by the other, and equals a reworking of
      the other. I now proceed to give what I think is a neutral account of the Lk
      story, not assuming either the scenario Mt > Lk or its opposite.


      First, be it noted that Luke has his story in a different place. I have
      noted above that for Mt, the story was the final statement of Jesus's
      teaching about the Kingdom, and that this accounts for the literarily
      unsatisfactory second segment of the story. In Mt, the Parable of the
      Killing Feast is Jesus's last teaching parable before he enters on a long
      series of conflict stories with the Pharisees, who conspire to bring about
      his death, and succeed finally in doing so. That is, it is Jesus's final
      statement *to a more general public* about the Kingdom. Mt, on such an
      occasion, might indeed feel himself justified in giving a complete theory of
      Heaven: we Gentiles are now the ones invited, BUT even we need to be
      adequate to the occasion. If the later scolding Evangelists are going to
      leave Jesus's message with us in authoritative form, it will need to include
      both these clauses. So might Mt have been thinking. I would have done it
      differently, but Mt's different decisions cannot be dismissed as those of a
      simpleton or a madman. They can be seen as making sense, on a reasonable
      interpretation of Mt's probable intent at this point.

      Luke does not make his story Jesus's final utterance on the subject. He thus
      has no agenda need for theological completeness, and thus for the second
      part of Mt's legally watertight Kingdom message, and he either is not
      inspired to include it (if he is writing first), or else is moved to delete
      it (if he is writing second). Lk puts his version of the piece well back
      into his Travel Narrative. In contrast to the Pharisee conflict, as in Mt,
      Lk's story occurs in a context of positive, not negative, relations with
      Pharisees. In Lk 14:1, Jesus dines at the house of a "ruler" of the Pharisee
      party, and there makes his comment on not seeking the places of honor at the
      table. He next introduces his theory of compensation (most dramatically
      presented a little later, in Luke's Parable of Lazarus), whereby riches in
      this world spell torment in the next, and vice versa. Luke, let it be
      remembered, is the one who makes a point of portraying for us the poverty of
      the early Church, *as such,* in Acts, so that this touch is demonstrably in
      his characteristic vein of thought. Third, someone at the Pharisee dinner in
      Lk 14 says, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God." This
      Jesus rebukes by telling the story here under discussion.

      Luke's version has just a "man" rather than a "king." (We may now notice
      that Mt's "king" and his later sentence about the king destroying a city are
      probably related, the one to prepare for the possibility of the other). Lk
      has nothing corresponding to the destruction of Jerusalem. He has just a
      banquet, and not specifically a wedding feast. Again, can we see why Mt
      *has* that detail? I would think, apart from the inherited image (inherited
      from Mark) of Jesus as himself the bridegroom, he has it prepare for the
      inadequacy of the one wedding guest in his section, a section which Lk does
      not have. The section and the specification of a "wedding feast" thus go
      together, they are not two differences but one difference, the first part
      consistently preparing for the second. So also with Lk: in his mind, the
      scruffiest of guests is welcome, precisely because they are *in violation*
      of standard conventions. Luke repeatedly shows an intense favoritism for the
      poor. And in this story, he emphasizes that theme just as much as Mt, with
      his different intentions, emphasizes the need to be properly dressed for the

      Here, before we get any further, is Lk 14:16-24.

      "But he said to him, A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many, and
      at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been
      invited, Come, for all is now ready. But they all alike began to make
      excuses. The first said to him, I have bought a field, and I must go out and
      see it, I pray you, have me excused. And another said, I have bought five
      yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them, I pray you, have me excused. And
      another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So the
      servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger
      said to his servant, Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city,
      and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame. And the servant said,
      Sir, what you commended has been done, and still there is room. And the
      master said to the servant, Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel
      people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of
      those men who were invited shall taste my banquet."


      As far as the above descriptions go, the two stories are quite different,
      but each (on first estimate; see however below) is compatible with its
      narrative context, and each expresses concerns otherwise characteristic of
      its author. Are they copies (with scribal or other trivial errors) from a
      single source?

      Klyne concludes (p310), "If only nineteen of 223 words are used in both
      accounts (see p305 above), and if the contexts and structures are different,
      I would argue that we have little reason to think that these accounts have
      come from the same story. They should be analyzed separately." I have to say
      that I think that this is an invocation of the "copyist" model of Evangelist
      activity, and I do not find (remember Nazareth) that the copyist model is
      adequate to explain even the cases where we know the source of contrasting
      accounts in Mt and Lk. I thus conclude that the copyist model has proved to
      be inadequate for Synoptic phenomena at large, and needs to be abandoned as
      the default scenario. The present case is merely one of the extreme examples
      where the copyist model will not handle the freight.

      The standard philological presumption, as I understand it, is that if two
      parallel accounts are narratively and thematically consistent in their
      respective contexts, then there is no directionality indication between
      them. One may have been adapted from the other, but if so, it has been
      literarily smoothed into its new setting, and the usual tests for
      interpolation or adaptation cannot be applied. On details considered so far,
      then, we might judge that the directionality of these two stories is

      That's the general situation. Before looking at the wider situation (in a
      not impossible later message), we might conclude this examination with the
      details of wording which Klyne refers to. They are on his p305. None, to me,
      immediately suggests literary directionality; they are the common stuff of
      the two accounts ("said, and sent, his, to the invited, ready, field, his,
      into the ways," and if we include Greek words differently inflected, "man,
      make, servant [2x], say, be angry, go out"). I don't think there is anything
      here to rest a firm conclusion of directionality on. Any such determination
      will have to be made on wider grounds.


      M Goulder (2/589) takes a slightly more sanguine view of what can be gotten
      out of the words. He says,

      "14:16-24. For all Luke's alterations, the parable retains Matthew's
      structure: (1) the host gave a big reception; (2) *he sent his servant(s)
      to* summon *(those invited,* saying the meal was *ready,* (3) the guests
      rudely ignored the message, *going* off to see to their *farm* or business
      purchases, (4) then the host was *angry* at their behavior (matters are
      worse in Matthew), and said to *his servant(s)* to *go out into the streets*
      and bring in anybody, (5) in this way their would be guests at the banquet.
      There are only eighteen words in common between the two stories, but the
      presence of Matthew's TOTE and AGROS (16/7/9, 13.31R) among them may suggest
      which way the wind is blowing."

      It seems a gossamer consideration. For TOTE (not included in Klyne's list,
      but marked in fuchsia in the Farmer Synopsis, and certainly there in the
      text, we have

      Then he says to the servants [of him]

      Then growing angry, the householder

      and for AGROS

      The one to his own field

      Lk 14:18 / AGRON HGORASA
      A field have I bought

      Sorry, but I am not good enough at Greek to see the directionality in this.
      Explication welcome. Meanwhile, I rest in my above conclusion, that the word
      overlaps in the two stories don't give any really firm ground for a
      directionality determination between them. I can as easily see the field
      owner in Mt as an abridgement of the field buyer in Lk, as the reverse. Lk's
      novelties (as against Mt's previous possessions) are more insistent, and
      thus more plausible excuses, but maybe Mt wants to emphasis the speciousness
      of the excuses. This is the kind of discussion that can go on forever
      without advancing Synoptic theory. If we know from stronger reasons
      elsewhere that Y is derived from X, then I am sure a satisfactory account of
      HOW it was derived can be framed. M Goulder's explanation (apart from these
      word studies) is a good deal like my own, and the more credit to him for
      thinking of it first. I think it is plausible without being of itself

      LAST TRY

      If I were being serious about these stories, I would next go look at the
      Pharisee group in Lk 14, to see what the more general dynamic of that
      cluster might be. But if compelled, by the rules of the game as it is more
      commonly played, to find a directionality indicator somewhere in these two
      stories and in nothing else, I think I would be inclined to note the fit of
      each with what immediately precedes.

      In Mt, the Banquet story (22:2f) directly follows the Scripture quotation
      from the Psalms (the stone which the builders rejected), whose message is
      already the transfer of God's Promise to others. The Pharisees react with
      anger, trying to arrest Jesus, and deterred only because "they feared the
      multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet." Then Jesus "spoke to
      them in parables, saying" [22:1], and we have our story. Whose message is
      exactly, in allegorical form, what he has just proclaimed to them in
      prophetic form, in the words (as it was supposed) of the inspired David. The
      consistency, the consecutivity, could not be better. The anger of the
      Pharisees is also complete consistent with the hostile character of what
      Jesus says, in their hearing, about them and their kind. There are no
      ruffles on the narrative surface.

      In Lk, the Banquet story (14:16f) follows a direct statement, to Jesus's
      Pharisee host, about who to invite to a banquet: "But when you give a feast,
      invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed,
      because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the

      This is very Lukan: the idea that debts below will be paid above, but will
      not be efficacious if they have previously been paid below. Heaven exists as
      a sort of FDIC, to repay what is owed to the earthly poor. To it, a Pharisee
      guest responds, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God."
      This is surely unobjectionable by any who think that they are going there.
      But Jesus in his next move does object to it. The Lukan parable of the
      Banquet, which Jesus proceeds to deliver, in effect excludes that speaker,
      the Pharisee host, and all the other guests, from precisely the hoped for
      Kingdom of the Blessed. It is as hostile to Pharisees (and to all Jews) as
      is the Matthean parallel, but that hostility is jarring in the more amicable
      Lukan context. The Lukan Banquet is thematically connected (by the banquet
      motif) to the Pharisee dinner occasion, and it is advocationally connected
      to the preceding advice on how to leave unrepaid debts on earth, to assure
      one's own entry into Heaven (the "poor, maimed, lame, and blind" in Lk's
      Banquet surely have their origin here). But in the narrative as a narrative,
      the Banquet parable is strikingly malapropos. Just as malapropos, I would
      suggest, as Jesus imagining that his Nazareth audience would demand of him
      miracles like those he had done at Capernaum, when in fact (as the Lukan
      narrative now stands, after a not wholly successful revision), he has not
      yet GONE to Capernaum.

      I would thus judge that the Lukan Banquet has been put where it is for
      reasons intelligible, but with a result inconcinnitous. No such objection
      can be raised, at least not by me, to the Mt counterpart and its context.
      Then the smoothness of the two in context, which on my above assessment was
      equally good, turns out on closer inspection to be NOT equally good. It is
      less good in Lk, and for that reason, our default presumption will be that
      the Lukan form is secondary to the Matthean one. That is, the easier
      assumption (following Tischendorf, as the basic rule for all such
      judgements) is that the Lukan story has been moved into its present position
      (the Lukan Pharisee dinner) still retaining elements (hostility to Jews)
      which it had in its previous position (the Matthean hostility series).

      I repeat, and conclude by repeating, that other and stronger reasons need to
      be sought. But if on that firmer basis it should turn out that the Lukan
      version is in fact secondary, and draws its material from the Matthean
      version, I would see no difficulty in explaining why and how.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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